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The Ruling Class
John Garrity
June 23, 1997
Working the Open is the ultimate assignment for golf's rules gurus
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June 23, 1997

The Ruling Class

Working the Open is the ultimate assignment for golf's rules gurus

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Binoculars, please. All right...thin fellow, white cap. Yup, it's our defending champion, Steve Jones. And...oh, dear, he's hooked his drive on 17 into the trees and deep rough and acronyms. He's got a TIO (temporary immovable obstruction) between his ball and the hole, and the air is thick with dots, dashes, slashes and digits—as in Rule 24-2, Immovable Obstruction. Jones has not one but two USGA rules officials watching him with sympathetic but unblinking eyes. From here it looks as if there's intervention but no interference, which means Jones is entitled to....

But first, our Rules Quiz.

You're a USGA roving official, dressed in regulation khaki slacks and powder-blue, short-sleeved shirt. You have a stopwatch hanging from a cord around your neck. It's the first round of the U.S. Open at Congressional, and from your golf cart you observe 1995 PGA champion Steve Elkington rehearsing his swing while standing in a sand bunker at the 4th green. Without hitting his ball, which is on the grassy bank above the sand, Elkington steps out of the bunker, picks up a rake and carefully erases his footprints—an apparent violation of Rule 13-3, which prohibits building a stance. You instantly radio the walking official in Elkington's group (the fellow inside the ropes with the earpiece and unhurried demeanor). You then call the scorer's shack so they'll quiz Elkington at the end of his round.

Question: Will Elkington be peeved?

(Answer below.)

Getting back to Jones, the situation is this: His ball is in long grass, 210 yards from the green, and his direct line to the hole is impeded by the near corner of a packed grandstand—in rules jargon, a TIO. Jones is four over par for the tournament and seems a safe bet to make the cut.

Jones should turn to the officials and ask, "What are my options here?" Instead, he seems to be relying on his own understanding of 24-2. He pulls an iron from his bag...he's taking his stance...he's aiming at a small window of opportunity below some tree limbs.

The two officials are giving each other quizzical looks. Too late. Jones chops down on the ball, and it whistles low for maybe 50 yards before getting tangled in more long grass. Now he's in real trouble.

A couple of hours later the two rules officials—former USGA president Grant Spaeth and Florida businessman Tom Dudley—replay this episode in the clubhouse. They draw diagrams on cocktail napkins. They tap the green tablecloth with their fingers to emphasize salient points.

"Jones did a funny thing there," says Spaeth. "His plan was to go under the trees." But the golfer was apparently unaware that 24-2 provides relief from TIOs in the intended line of play, even if that line is not the safest or smartest play. Given Jones's intention, the grandstand was in his way, and he could have asked for relief.

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